Enlarged heart found to be cause of death for Wes Leonard

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Following an autopsy, it was determined that 16-year-old Michigan basketball player Wes Leonard died from dilated cardiomyopathy, often referred to as an "enlarged heart."

“Dilated cardiomyopathy” led to the cardiac arrest of 16-year-old Wes Leonard Thursday evening, after scoring the winning shot for his high school basketball team in Michigan.

The office of forensic pathologist Dr. David A. Start released the findings this afternoon, after the family had been notified of the autopsy results, The Detroit Free Press reported. After making the game-winning lay-up in overtime to seal an undefeated season, 20-0, Leonard had just been hoisted in the air by his teammates and set back down, as the fans flooded the court, when he collapsed. Dr. Start said that the family may not have realized he had the condition, as it often goes undetected.

Cardiomyopathy weakens and enlarges the heart muscle, the Mayo Clinic online indicates. It makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood and send it throughout the body. Treatment can include medication, implants or, in severe cases, heart transplant. Symptoms, the MayoClinic.com indicates, include:

  • Breathlessness with exertion or even at rest
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
  • Bloating of the abdomen due to fluid buildup
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting

The cause for cardiomyopathy is largely unknown, MayoClinic.com says. The type of cardiomyopathy the autopsy revealed, “dilated cardiomyopathy,” is the most common type. The heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, becomes enlarged/dilated, and becomes less able to pump, and the blood doesn’t flow as well through the heart. It is sometimes a condition that runs in families, and most often affects men.

If untreated, cardiomyopathy can lead to the following, the MayoClinic.com states:

  • Heart failure: Heart failure means your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. The thickened, stiffened or weakened heart muscle due to cardiomyopathy can become unable to pump or can stop blood from flowing out of the heart. Left untreated, heart failure can be life-threatening.
  • Blood clots: Because your heart can't pump effectively, you're more likely to have blood clots form in your heart if you have cardiomyopathy. If clots are pumped out of the heart and enter your bloodstream, they can block the blood flow to other organs, including your heart and brain. If clots develop on the right side of your heart, they may travel to your lungs (pulmonary embolism). To reduce your risk, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner (anticoagulant medication), such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix) or warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Heart murmurs: Because people with dilated cardiomyopathy have an enlarged heart, two of the heart's four valves — the mitral and tricuspid valves — may not close properly, leading to a backward flow of blood. This flow creates sounds called heart murmurs. Heart murmurs are not necessarily harmful, but they should be monitored by your doctor.
  • Cardiac arrest and sudden death: All forms of cardiomyopathy can lead to abnormal heart rhythms. Some of these heart rhythms are too slow to keep blood flowing through your heart effectively, and some are too fast to allow the heart to beat properly. In either case, these abnormal heart rhythms can result in fainting or, in some cases, sudden death, if your heart stops beating.

Leonard was first attended by a parent EMT, the DFP reported, then by emergency personnel arriving on the scene, who worked on the young man for over an hour. Leonard arrived at Holland Hospital at 9:20 p.m., and was pronounced dead at 10:40 p.m.

Funeral arrangements have been made, and the service is planned for 1:30 p.m. at Christ Memorial Church in Holland.

For more information about cardiomyopathy, visit the MayoClinic.com.

Read more about the background on the Wes Leonard case on Huliq.com:
High school basketball star Wes Leonard dies after making winning shot
Will the death of Wes Leonard open new AED discussion?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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